April 13th, 2012

Social search and personalization: a turning point for brands

With Google’s privacy changes implemented on March 1st and pending changes such as the EU cookie law, there are a lot of people trying to explain how privacy and personalization works for users, and for many, the noise only complicates things further.  To cut a long story short though, it’s a golden opportunity for your brand and you can’t afford to miss out.

Here’s the lowdown.  Even if you’re not signed in to Google Plus, or Gmail, YouTube, etc. (which are all under the same umbrella anyway), and even if you’ve turned off your “web history” settings, your Google search results are still somewhat influenced by your past activity, your tastes, and even the general public. This may sound like a stormy time for some sites, as SEO transitions into part of an overall online marketing strategy (which it should have been all along, right?) that focuses on getting an effective brand and social influence and letting users determine how well a site fares.  But for established and upcoming brand names alike, this may be the perfect storm and the perfect time to take charge.

Branding has become easier on Google, with results for brand names inclusive of search results natural and paid (which is proven to be most effective when both are active), followed by social profiles such as Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In,  along with video profiles, your location info, reviews and news about your brand, and even sites related to your brand.  Gone are the days where businesses felt like they had no control on how their brand was represented on natural search and maybe just stuck with paid search (I can think of many big name brands that once fit this category).  But times have changed.

Not too long ago, Google worked on making results more favourable to the country/market you are in.  But this has been magnified since, looking at your locality in more detail.  Results in New York are way different from those in Los Angeles these days and completely different from those in Europe.  Many consumers now are always logged in to one of the Google-owned sites, and often never bother to log out and the results start to cater to their interests.  Now whether this is good or bad for consumers is a different debate all together, but in this current set up, each one of us is now developing Google’s algorithm!

Google itself has focused on helping brands understand search, and they should, as it helps their own brand too.  Whether beta trials on verticals (image, video, rich snippets, local, etc) or helping to develop pilot programs on Google, it was the big brands who they contacted and wanted to get involved.  And search started being more human, whether quality control teams on Google’s end, or even how Google plus totals are becoming an influence on some rankings. More and more we are all becoming a part of a global development team, whether we know it or not.

And the reality is that getting a new brand established solely using a natural search strategy is harder to do in this day and age.  There is more competition for one, fewer unknown niches left to capitalize on, algorithms that favour sites with a good presence overall (and thus more resource to keep tabs on a multi-level strategy), while consumers communicate, share and look for each other’s favourites. The last part is key, many look for each other’s favourites, not exploring new ones, and this is a big debate too.  Does the current set up of social search and personalization allow for brand favouritism and less negative sentiment to show? Unfortunately to some, yes.  You’ll need more firepower, more resource, more people on board to get a message across. But if you are a major brand name…… you have no excuses.

Need more info on how it all works?  Well, drop us a line and let our team of consultants at Reform help guide your brand into a stronger search and online strategy.

Blog post by Niall Madden, SEO Director of Reform